2023 Lexus RX vs Volkswagen Touareg comparison review

Two distinctive takes on the large premium SUV, both out to ease the burden at the bowser

2023 Lexus RX 350 Volkswagen Touareg Thomas Wielecki Group 25

Things we like

  • RX: Ride comfort, exterior styling, efficient hybrid
  • TOUAREG: All-terrain capability, torquey diesel, responsive steering

Not so much

  • RX: Vocal petrol engine, towing rated at 1500kg, EP1 pack needed
  • TOUAREG: Small CarPlay UI, lazy gearbox, grabby ESC

The Germans have been making luxury cars for a long time and doing a bang-up job of it, too.

Any new rival is subject to intense scrutiny and dreaded badge snobbery, which makes Lexus’s break into the luxury sphere all the more impressive, and although the LS 400 took Wheels COTY honours in 1990, it was the strong-selling RX that cemented Lexus’s success.

It took until 2003 and a second generation for the RX to hit Australian shores, based on Camry underpinnings for a plusher ride and smarter cabin space than Lexus’s other large SUV, the ladder-framed LX.

It may not have been as sharp to drive as the E53 BMW X5 – we said as much at the time: “If you have the cash, BMW’s X5 is still the best high-end SUV… but the Lexus RX is more comfortable inside, has a lighter feel, and will be cheaper” (Wheels April 2004).

2023 Lexus RX 350 Volkswagen Touareg Thomas Wielecki Group 36

The Lexus RX stood for a new luxury

A showier luxury that was also more affordable, in line with a faster-moving, more image-conscious era with champagne paintwork and chrome bezels. German pragmatism it was not.

This fifth-gen RX hit Aussie dealerships in February, and swiftly nailed all the targets its reputation would have you expect. As usual, it’s built from the same parts package (in this case, the GA-F platform) as a related Toyota, making this much-improved five-seat SUV easily the best in the bloodline.

More fluid handling than ever, broader powertrain offerings, and a luxurious cabin are hallmarks, with the strong value proposition still very much intact.

2023 Lexus RX 350 Wagon SUV Thomas Wielecki 49

Riding the same noughties wave of premium large SUVs was the Touareg nameplate. Twinned in development with the vehicle that saved Porsche, VW’s torquey (and occasionally V10-powered) SUV has always had high-class blood running through its veins.

It’s an inverse Lexus. Rather than glitzing up parts from a mainstream brand, the Touareg scoops the goodies from Porsche and Audi, dropping the price with less glamorous materials, and offering only three variants. Teutonic pragmatism at its finest.

The Touareg may be approaching a facelift, but much of its bones will stay the same. Only a new plug-in hybrid powertrain for the flagship R, minor body changes, and some revisions to the technology package are due in the next 18 months.

2023 Volkswagen Touareg Wagon SUV Comparison Thomas Wielecki 8


Pricing and features

To sample it against the RX, we secured the base model Touareg 170TDI.

It starts from $87,990 before on-road costs, but with expensive ($2200!) Antimonial silver paintwork and the $8600 Innovision package (ambient lighting, 15-inch touchscreen, digital driver display and navigation), the Tourage creeps price up to $98,790. Still, it’s under $100K, and not bad when you consider how sharp it looks compared to $130K BMWs and Benzes.

The RX range is anything but simple. There are four engines, four trim levels, and various enhancement packs leading to 14 permutations. Lexus offers all manner of exterior and interior colours to choose from, with the range spanning $87,500-126,600 before on-road costs.

Thing is, you get a lot from the $97,500 350h Luxury AWD trim with Enhancement Pack 1 that we have on test. With luxuries such as cooled seats and four leather colour choices bundled into EP1, this is all the RX most will ever need.

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2023 Lexus RX 350 Wagon SUV Thomas Wielecki 41

The basics

Lexus RX350h AWD EP1Volkswagen Touareg 170TDI
Price (as tested)$97,500$98,790
Engineinline 4 cyl, 2.5-litre, DOHC, atkinson cycle, 40kW/121Nm  rear motorV6, 3.0-litre, turbo-diesel, common rail direct injection
Power184kW170kW @ 4000rpm
TorqueNA500Nm @ 1750-3000rpm
Fuel consumption (ADR combined)5.4L/100km6.9L/100km
0-100km/h7.9 seconds7.5 seconds
Touchscreen size14.0-inch15.0-inch
Boot size612/1678L810/1800L
Sound system12-speaker Panasonic8-speaker

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2023 Volkswagen Touareg Wagon SUV Comparison Thomas Wielecki 27

Comfort and space

The Touareg and Lexus RX may both be finished in resale silver, but that’s where exterior similarities end. Like a well-tailored Boss suit, the Touareg’s chiselled body lines and restrained detailing bestow it a quiet confidence.

The ‘spindle bodied’ RX, on the other hand, is all about presence. Its jutting grille accentuates the RX’s long front overhang (that scrapes on driveways) and makes a daring impression. A colour other than Sonic Iridium and some larger alloy wheels might better complement the shape, but we’re all agreed that the bold new RX is a step in the right direction.

Inside, the Lexus is not quite as daring. The EP1 option adds real leather faces to the seats and fan-cooling (a must-have if you can), as well as a panoramic sunroof, capacitive steering wheel controls, a head-up display, and a wireless charging pad.

2023 Lexus RX 350 Wagon SUV Thomas Wielecki 31

The material quality feels a retrograde step in places, however, with cheaper plastics creeping further up the RX’s door cards than its plush predecessor.

Our car’s black upholstery accentuates this. We say live a little and opt for a more interesting colour; Hazel, Dark Sepia, and Solis white leathers are all available.

Lexus’s new GA-K underpinnings and electrical architecture bring much-improved technology. The controversial trackpad is gone, in its place a generous and responsive 14-inch touchscreen with navigation, DAB radio, and wireless Apple CarPlay (but wired Android Auto). There’s also a crisp 12-speaker Panasonic sound system.

Interacting with the various screens is mostly hassle-free, except for the head-up and digital driver’s displays. Lexus may have ditched the central touchpad but its ghost lives on in the steering wheel controls that lack tactile feedback. It’s frustrating that, to switch what’s on the instrument binnacle, you need to gaze into the head-up display.

2023 Volkswagen Touareg Wagon SUV Comparison Thomas Wielecki 28

One RX curiosity is its ‘eLatch’ door handles. From the outside they’re conventional, but don’t move as you pull on them. It’s just an electric button. From the inside, instead of pulling, it’s a press-of-the-thumb to actuate and then push with your arm. Innovation for innovation’s sake? Perhaps, but our testers grew to quite like it.

Touareg’s Innovision pack brings a massive 15-inch touchscreen that’s responsive and gorgeous to look at. Unfortunately, wired Apple CarPlay doesn’t take full advantage of the screen, leaving a black edge around phone mirroring – something Android readers will be more accustomed to than Apple devotees.

The Volkswagen’s cabin feel is slick and handsome. Comfortable heated seats and excellent cabin storage are great, but the RX has those things too with more lashings of luxury. Business-like and easy to live with but in base 170TDI trim, Touareg can’t match the Lexus for plushness.

2023 Lexus RX 350 Wagon SUV Thomas Wielecki 12

HVAC controls buried in touchscreens rightly infuriate many road testers, but this pair does it right. With persistent control for fan speed and seat temp controls on their huge touchscreens, the Touareg and RX don’t sacrifice usability for cabin space.

Unsurprisingly for a pair of SUVs that are the best part of 4.9 metres long, the back seats are spacious. Neither the RX nor Touareg is available with seven seats, though a three-row RX L will be along within the next 24 months.

The Touareg packs plenty of space with a sliding bench and adjustable backrest. It’s spacious, especially without the optional $2000 sunroof, and there are two USB-C charging points and a 12-volt socket that folds out from below the two air vents.

Unsurprisingly for a pair of SUVs that are the best part of 4.9 metres long, the back seats are spacious.
2023 Lexus RX 350 Wagon SUV Thomas Wielecki 53

The RX is a little better though, with extra legroom, a seven-position backrest that reclines an awfully long way, a third climate zone, and a higher-set bench that improves visibility for rear passengers.

Loading items into either SUV won’t be a huge chore as the load lips are flat and unobtrusive. The Touareg’s boot is larger, measuring 810L or 1800L with the back seats folded flat. It’s also more usable with a very square bay, good underfloor storage, shopping bag hooks, and a space-saver spare tyre.

The RX’s boot is a little smaller, measuring 612L. Folding the second row is easier, though, owing to electric push-buttons in place of manual pull tabs. With the seats down the RX’s load space climbs to 1678L. Owing to packaging an electric motor under the boot floor, the RX has a puncture repair kit instead of a spare.

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2023 Volkswagen Touareg Wagon SUV Comparison Thomas Wielecki 20

On the road

That electric motor under the RX’s bonnet doesn’t contribute a huge amount to proceedings.

With outputs of 40kW and 121Nm and powered by a small nickel-metal hydride battery, the RX’s AWD system reaches its limit pretty quickly. Still, it does help on a greasy road or damp grass at the footy oval.

There’s no physical connection to the transverse-mounted 2.5-litre petrol engine, so the rear motor doesn’t bring up the 184kW power figure compared to the front-drive RX, and Toyota doesn’t quote a combined peak torque figure.

The RX’s powertrain is excellently calibrated, you can really tell Lexus has been doing hybrids for a long time. Sharp initial throttle response gives the impression of pace, but really the RX progressively builds to your desired speed.

2023 Lexus RX 350 Wagon SUV Thomas Wielecki 43
The Touareg is an SUV that's built with a degree of off-roading in mind, not just bitumen cruising

It’s a brisk, if not fast SUV, getting from rest to 100km/h in a claimed 7.9 seconds, but does so without the din of its Toyota relations – Lexus has been hard at work with sound deadening.

It also sips 95 RON unleaded, with a rating of 5.4L/100km on the combined ADR cycle, and the RX’s electric motors should make it efficient around town. Our test saw the RX350h return 8.7L/100km, however, it should be noted that included idling for photography. In real-world driving getting closer to its ADR rating is easily possible.

The Touareg used 9.2L/100km on our test loop, which compares to its ADR combined cycle figure of 6.8L/100km.

2023 Volkswagen Touareg Wagon SUV Comparison Thomas Wielecki 4

Powertrain-wise, the Touareg is an entirely different animal. It features a longitudinally-mounted 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 and a mechanical AWD system. This is an SUV that’s built with off-roading in mind, not just bitumen cruising.

With 170kW, 500Nm, an eight-speed torque converter automatic, and a 3500kg braked towing capacity (the RX doesn’t even reach half that at 1500kg) the Touareg is easily the choice for towing and touring.

You might think the Touareg would shrug the Lexus off in the country, then, but the RX is still a faithful companion. The ride quality from both coil-sprung SUVs is excellent, the 19-inch alloys shielded from the road by 55-series worth of chub in the Touareg, and 60 series in the RX.

The Lexus’s chassis feels marginally less rigid with more rear suspension noise echoing through the cabin, and a whisker more road grumble. It also has more relaxed body control than the Touareg, making it comfier on the freeway.

More fluid handling, broader powertrain offerings, and a luxurious cabin are hallmarks of the new RX
2023 Lexus RX 350 Volkswagen Touareg Thomas Wielecki Group 15

Despite a slower 2.76 turn lock-to-lock steering rack and a fair bit of body roll, the Lexus remains a talented handler.

The road-holding won’t trouble a sporty BMW X5, but it flows delightfully down a road and gives the driver options mid-corner. You can lift to bring the nose in through a tightening bend, or get on the power to neutralise.

The Touareg is a wholly sportier proposition. Its torquey diesel mill and firmer chassis feel purpose-built to whittle away hours in the country. Both cars are on steel springs and single-stage dampers. Even so, it’s worth selecting the Touareg’s Sport mode (more so than the RX) as it adds welcome heft to the steering and sharpens the transmission calibration.

This Touareg carves corners deceptively well for a non-air suspended two-tonne SUV. Get carried away, though, and the Touareg’s ESC clamps down hard on the front wheels if it senses things getting out of hand.

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The Lexus RX350h and Volkswagen Touareg 170TDI both achieved five stars in ANCAP safety testing.

Having scored its five-star ANCAP rating in 2019 rather than 2022, the Touareg naturally has fewer safety features, namely driver monitoring and no centre airbag, but it’s still a very safe vehicle.

Both cars have well-programmed adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist systems that take the sting out of highway driving.

The Lexus RX is fitted with a litany of the latest safety features, including AEB with pedestrian, cyclist and junction detection, blind-spot monitoring with intervention, rear cross-traffic alert, reverse AEB, and more. The implementation of them all is really proficient, with more soothing chimes than old Toyota systems.

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2023 Lexus RX 350 Wagon SUV Thomas Wielecki 27


The two SUVs are covered by their respective manufacturer’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranties, as well as five-year capped price servicing. For the Touareg, a pre-paid pack will cost you $3200 for up to 75,000km or five years of motoring.

Lexus doesn’t pre-sell servicing, but does cap each visit to $695, for a five-year total of $3475. The Japanese car also comes with the brand’s Encore subscription for three years, giving owners benefits such as fuel discounts, roadside assistance, invites to exclusive Lexus events, and VIP treatment at partner hotels.

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2023 Lexus RX 350 Volkswagen Touareg Thomas Wielecki Group 28


The new Lexus RX is a massive improvement over its predecessor. It’s Japanese luxury done right.

These are two quite different ways to accomplish the same goal of large SUV luxury, yet neither gallops away for the overall win, with one caveat. If you’re a horse, boat, or caravan owner, Touareg is the only choice.

The Lexus’s talent runs deeper than your regular Toorak Tractor, though. It’s a very cohesive drive and a massive improvement over its predecessor with an immaculate ride and talented enough chassis to look after you and the family on testing roads. It’s Japanese luxury done right.

While the Volkswagen might feel firmer, and a little more keyed into the road, ultimately its chassis doesn’t leave its rivals in the dust like the smaller Tiguan does to medium SUVs.

A bigger back seat and boot make the Touareg a practical choice, but it doesn’t feel as luxurious inside or offer the RX's level of customisation. By the slimmest of margins, then, overall victory goes to the Lexus.

Lexus RX350h: 8/10

Things we like

  • Ride comfort
  • Bold exterior styling
  • Efficient hybrid powertrain

Not so much...

  • Petrol engine can be vocal
  • Only rated to tow 1500kg
  • EP1 needed

Volkswagen Touareg 170TDI: 8/10

Things we like

  • All-terrain capability
  • Torquey diesel mill
  • Responsive steering

Not so much...

  • Small Apple CarPlay
  • Lazy transmission
  • Grabby ESC


Lexus RX350h AWD EP1Volkswagen Touareg 170TDI
Safety, value and features8.58.5
Comfort and space98.5
Engine and gearbox7.58
Ride and handling8.58


Lexus RX350h + EP1Touareg 170TDI
Engineinline 4 cyl, 2.5-litre, DOHC, atkinson cycle, 40kW/121Nm  rear motorV6, 3.0-litre, turbo-diesel, common rail direct injection
LayoutFront engine, transverse, FWD with electric rear motorFront engine, longitudinal, AWD
Power184kW170kW @ 4000rpm
TorqueNA500Nm @ 1750-3000rpm
Gearboxe-CVT8 speed automatic
Track (F/R)1650/1675mm1663/1679mm
Weight (claimed)2060kg2087kg
Fuel/tank95 RON / 65LDiesel / 90L
Economy (combined ADR81/02)5.4L/100km6.8L/100km
SuspensionFront: struts, stabiliser bar.  Rear: multi-link stabiliser barFront: five link strut, coil springs, stabiliser bar.  Rear: five-link, coil springs, stabiliser bar
SteeringRack-assisted electric power steering 2.76 turns lock to lockRack-assisted electric power steering 2.2 turns lock to lock
Front brakes340mm x 28mm ventilated rotors, 2 piston caliper350mm ventilated rotors, 6 piston caliper
Rear brakes340mm x18mm ventilated rotors, single-piston floating caliper330mm solid rots, single-piston floating caliper
TyresDunlop SP SportBridgestone Alenza
Tyre size 235/60R19235/35R19
ANCAP rating5 stars (2023)5 stars (2019)
0-100km/h7.9 seconds7.5 seconds

Innovision package

*Innovision package ($8600), Antimonial Silver ($2200)

Things we like

  • RX: Ride comfort, exterior styling, efficient hybrid
  • TOUAREG: All-terrain capability, torquey diesel, responsive steering

Not so much

  • RX: Vocal petrol engine, towing rated at 1500kg, EP1 pack needed
  • TOUAREG: Small CarPlay UI, lazy gearbox, grabby ESC


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